Life now is like defending a tough position in chess: Anand

Anand with his son
Viswanathan Anand with his son Akhli.

The downside of life in confinement is loneliness and freedom of movement, especially for sportspersons who are used to travelling around the world and operating on a pretty rigid schedule.

"This is like defending a tough position in chess. We need to shore up our defence and fight hard till we conquer the coronavirus," says five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand. 

The 51-year-old Chennaite had a tough time last year when he got stuck in Germany for over three months due to the travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Back home, he is now keeping a positive frame of mind and staying indoors to contribute in the fight against the dreaded disease.

2021 too was unkind to the chess maestro. His father K Viswanathan died last month at the age of 92. Anand is dealing with the lockdown by playing chess with his son Akhil and trying out new things. He is looking at the positives of the forced break and is doing everything to keep himself occupied.

A challenging year

Now, I'm back to normal life again, although nothing is normal anymore. Though I have adjusted to this new situation and adapted quickly to the life in confinement, it is tiring and frustrating. Chess is the only solace. It is depressing to watch people suffer. I spend most of the time playing random games online. It has been 15 months since I played a competitive game over a real physical board. I hope that the situation will ease and travel restrictions will be lifted by July. I'm looking forward to participating in the Grand Chess Tour and the No-castling World Masters.

Anand & Carlsen
Anand with current word champion Magnus Carlsen. File photo

Chess has gained popularity online and provided much-needed social connections for professional players and newcomers alike. The pandemic has confined millions of people indoors and now people have time on their hands to try out a passion that they had put on the backburner due to their busy schedule.

Personally, I feel happy to have launched the Westbridge Anand Chess Academy to train five of India's biggest talents. Apart from Keralite Nihal Sarin, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, Raunak Sadhwani, Dommaraju Gukesh and Vaishali Rameshbabu are the five youngsters who received a fellowship. 

World Championship

The World Chess Championship 2021 between reigning champion Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi will be an exciting affair. I feel Magnus holds an edge over Ian. The latter has six months at his disposal to hone his skills and take up the challenge. Ian's strength lies in classical time controls and is unpredictable. His game is a double-edged sword. It makes him vulnerable too. 

New book

Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion's Life is a retelling of my journey. I've no plans to author another book in the near future. I have thought about writing about chess that could offer glimpses into different players and their playing styles. 

Potential successors

There are many youngsters in India who have the potential to rise to the top of the world rankings in the years to come. It is with this objective in mind that the Westbridge Anand Chess Academy has been created. I will be personally mentoring them. Although COVID-19 has disrupted our plans, online training sessions are on. I'm confident that India will have many chess superstars in the future. 

Nihal Sarin

He is very skilled at rapid and blitz chess. The best in the business will vouch for him. If he continues to train hard, Nihal has a bright future ahead. 

Kerala connection

My father was an employee of Indian Railways. A major part of his life was with Southern Railway. I have fond memories of places like Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kumarakom and Guruvayoor. Kerala is one of India's tourism jewels. I had been to Kerala a couple of years ago with some of my friends in France. My wife's ancestors are from Palakkad, so I'm a fan of Kerala cuisine as well. 

Message to fans

These are testing times. We need to stay vigilant and protect ourselves and others. It is like defending a difficult position in chess. Living in confinement is tough for us because Indians love to go out and socialise. But we cannot let our guard down. Stay healthy, stay safe.

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